Stendhal on Abstraction, from Bertrand Meyer’s Blog:
“… I glimpsed what it means to use the tool called algebra. I’ll be damned if anyone had ever explained it to me; endlessly Mr. Dupuy spun pompous sentences on the topic, but never did he say this one simple thing: it is a division of labor, and like every division of labor it creates wonders by allowing the mind to concentrate all its forces on just one side of objects, on just one of their qualities. What difference it would have made if Mr. Dupuy had told us: This cheese is soft or is it hard; it is white, it is blue; it is old, it is young; it is mine, it is yours; it is light or it is heavy. Of so many qualities, let us only consider the weight. Whatever that weight is, let us call it A. And now, no longer thinking of cheese, let us apply to A everything we know about quantities. Such a simple thing; …“
More recently in 2007/ 2008 Jeff Kramer on Is abstraction the key to computing? in the ACM’s Communications, managed to generate some little hype on the subject of abstraction. Also an empirical paper Applying abstraction to master complexity, by Hill et al. studied the “Comparison of Abstraction ability in Computer Science Majors, with students in other disciplines”. The CS guys won.
So, if this is the computer age, shouldn’t it thus be the age of abstraction as well? Imho today we know much ‘more’ about how computers do computation, than we know about how humans do abstraction.
Moreover computers can be seen as a physical device as well as an abstract machine. The above studies view abstraction with focus on the physical ‘device’ (performed by humans). Think, having in addition some abstract theory of abstraction could be quite enlightening here.